The Big Boots Saraki Left Behind

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Olusola Saraki

The November 14, death of Abubakar Olusola Saraki has thrown up one pertinent question in Kwara State: What happens to the political dynasty he left behind?

|  By Ishaya Ibrahim  | Jan. 28, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

ONE man who is yet to come to terms with the death of Abubakar Olusola Saraki, the strongman of Kwara politics, on November 14, 2012, is Tunji Arosanyin, a lawyer and his friend of more than 40 years. Arosanyin, 77, said although Saraki was no more, one of his attributes that will remain indelible in his mind is the late politician’s ability to understand another person’s feelings.

Arosanyin still remembers one incident 38 years ago which defined Saraki as a man with the gift of empathy. According to him, Saraki was in Ankpa, then in Kwara State, on a private business trip. There, he saw a number of sick people, some with goiter and others in various pitiable health conditions. Moved with pity, Saraki took 20 of them who required immediate surgeries to a hospital where he also bankrolled their bills. “Saraki was God’s gift to Kwara and Nigeria. He loved the people and the people loved him and were ready to follow him to wherever he led them especially in politics,” Arosanyin said.

Arosanyin
Arosanyin

Over the years, Saraki had deftly exploited the people’s love for him to build a political dynasty in Kwara State. Like Louis X1V in France, Saraki was Kwara and Kwara was Saraki. But now that he is gone and will never return to Kwara anymore, can his political dynasty live after him? Politicians are sharply divided on the issue.

Arosanyin, who had been Saraki’s political ally since the first republic, said if the dynasty fails, he too has failed. “I am prepared to advise him (Bukola, Saraki’s son) and make sure he succeeds because the problem with succession is that if he fails, it means that I fail because people here in Kwara have seen my life tangle with that of Dr. Saraki and my prayer is that anything he lives behind should continue to survive and I have promised myself that whatever knowledge God gives to me, whatever ability I have, I will support the dynasty,” he said.

Arosanyin believes that Bukola, who turned 50 on December 19, is capable of taking over the leadership role of his father. “I know him from his youth. If we pray hard, the dynasty will continue. That is what I want, and that is my prayer that the Saraki dynasty will continue because that is what is going to make me happy. I had associated with late Saraki for about 40 years and I don’t want what I have associated with come to nothing. I want it to continue,” he said.

Bukola Saraki
Bukola Saraki

Arosanyin’s passion for the Saraki dynasty was not only hinged on what the patriarch did for others, he too had personally benefited from him. In 1984, the General Muhammadu Buhari regime jailed all second republic politicians including Arosanyin who was the Kwara State secretary of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, and Saraki, who was a senator and leader of the Senate. Shortly after General Ibrahim Babangida took over power in a countercoup, Arosanyin was released by the new regime, but Saraki was still being held in Enugu prison.

Fourteen days after his release, Arosanyin’s mother died. With his bank account frozen and no friend to assist, Saraki got wind of it from prison and sent a prison warder with N2, 000 to assist him with the burial preparation. With that money, he was able to bury his mother in a colourful ceremony in which six cows were slaughtered. This extraordinary kindness which Arosanyin saw in Saraki, made him to choose Saraki as his father even though they had just a two-year age difference between them. Saraki was 79 years old when he died. This is the story of many Kwarans who see themselves as members of the Saraki political dynasty who also proudly refer to themselves as Sarakites.

The Sarakites now want Bukola to succeed his father. Saka Onimago, Kwara State commissioner for education, believes that Bukola is capable of wearing his father’s shoes because political craftsmanship runs deep in their family genes. “It is there in the genes. Science has proved it. We have found in him Bukola, former governor of Kwara State, a distinguished senator and Turaki of Ilorin. Why do I say this? He is well gifted, very, very intelligent, the IQ is high.  When he came into government in Kwara State, nobody would have thought of what he did. Talk of Shonga Farm, talk of youth farm development in Malete, talk of the Metropolitan Square, the kind of stadium we now have, the road network and many more,” the commissioner said.

Onimago
Onimago

Onimago commended the foresight of the late enigmatic patriarch in introducing his children to politics. “No Nigerian living or dead ever made the kind of mark that Dr. Sola Saraki made in politics. For once, we saw a veteran politician who had his son as a governor of a state and had a daughter in the Senate. That is very very uncommon and I want you to know that Nigerian politicians have now taken a cue from that. Obasanjo found wisdom in that and sent his daughter to the National Assembly. Lamidi Adedibu supported his son to become a senator,” he said.

Onimago said contrary to the widely held belief, there is nothing wrong with a family dominating the political space. “For a start, Baba came into politics in 1964. By 1978, he was in the constituent assembly, by 1979 he was a senator and the Senate leader. While the buildup was on, he never looked into his immediate family and say, come and be this.  Adamu Attah, who was a former governor of Kwara State, is not from Saraki’s family. Mamman Shaba Lafiagi, who later became the governor of Kwara State, courtesy of the Waziri Ilorin, is not from his immediate family. Distinguished Senator C. O. Adebayo, who had Baba’s support to become the governor, is not from his immediate family. All these people that I mentioned, the three of them are not from Ilorin Emirate.  And if at that stage, you have your children who have their ears to the ground and they have seen what their father is doing and aspire to be like him, there is nothing wrong with that. In the US, one of its Presidents had a son as governor in Texas and by the time he left, his son became president. Talk of the Ghandi’s? Why do they have it in their genes? Talk of Bhuto in Pakistan. It is in the genes. There is nothing strange,” he said.

Olawepo
Olawepo

But other Kwara politicians think differently. They believe that the dynasty had started to wither while Saraki was alive. Their contention is that there is no dynasty for Bukola to inherit. Gabriel Kayode Olawepo, ACN acting chairman, Kwara State, said because the dynasty has already collapsed, many of the aggrieved members are now finding their way into the ACN.  He said it was in a bid to stop the bleeding within the Saraki dynasty that the patriarch played a political trick of dividing his own house into two namely the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, ACPN.

“That is a political trick because a lot of people already had the misunderstanding and misgiving of his son, Bukola, during his life time. And he discovered that if care was not taken, such people with the misgiving would go to another political party. So he foisted the ACPN on them so that he could still control them, believing that by the time those who would go against Bukola in another party are now in ACPN, he would be able to control them, knowing that he would work for the PDP to win but would use the ACPN to capture the support that might have gone to the ACN,” Olawepo said.

During the buildup to the 2011 election, Bukola did not support his father’s anointed candidate, Gbemisola, his sister. Instead, he supported Abdulfatah Ahmed. His father had to establish the ACPN to help actualise her daughter’s ambition but she lost the contest to Ahmed

Gbemisola Saraki
Gbemisola Saraki

The ACN chieftain also said more revelations about the withering Saraki dynasty would come to light after the mourning period.  “The father has just died. All the sympathy would still be around, all the condolences would still be around, and nobody will speak evil of any dead during this period. But as the dust gets settled, revelations will come out and it is then we will be able to know whether he will step into his father’s shoes or not. As the Yoruba adage says: “Assuming that Baba is good; Baba cannot transfer his habit to Bukola. Habit never dies and Bukola cannot change overnight. And if he is the type of person that he is now, I’m afraid he cannot be his Baba,” he said.

Olawepo said with the way Bukola treats people, a time will come when those who still have sympathy for the father and have been taking insults from him, would not be able to tolerate it again. “If the attraction is that because of Baba Saraki, you cannot win and that attraction is gone, then it means you can go to where you will feel satisfied because there are times people do things out of compulsion, possibly out of greed not of conviction,” he said.

He said another thing that may count against Bukola apart from the growing ill feelings of his father’s supporters, is the maladministration going on in Kwara State. “I’m not talking personally about Baba. I want to acclaim Baba, may his soul rest in peace. As a human being he has tried for his followers. Nobody is contesting that. But in this state today, poverty is acute; the standard of living is zero, state of infrastructure is bad, health is worst,” the ACN leader said.

Saraki, fondly referred to as Oloye (chief) by his admirers, was a man of the people whose door was never shut against the poor. His generosity was legendary. At a time when Kwara State was facing acute shortage of water, he was said to have single-handedly bought tankers that were ferrying water from Ogbomoso in Oyo State, to the state. He also established a bakery which produced bread for the people of Ilorin free of charge. For these reasons, many took his word as law and his mere endorsement of candidates seeking elective offices in the state came with jubilation for the endorsed candidates because it was synonymous with victory at the polls.

Abdulfatah Ahmed
Abdulfatah Ahmed

Saraki’s political imprint was in almost all the civilian administrations that ruled Kwara State since its creation in 1967. Adamu Attah, who was a former governor of the state, got Oloye’s blessings before becoming governor of the state. So also Mamman Shaba Lafiagi, Cornelius Olatunji Adebayo and Mohammed Lawal, who was Saraki’s nominee in 1999, but lost his second term bid because Oloye shifted support to his son, Bukola, for the governorship contest in 2003.

Regardless of what others may say, one fact remains indisputable for more than three decades, late Saraki bestrode the political horizon of Kwara State with his big boots like a colossus. Whether any Sarakite can conveniently step into the patriarch’s boots left behind is a matter of serious conjecture.

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